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Featured Artist Coalition Backs Lily. "WTF?" Says Everyone Else.

October 5th, 2009 | 57 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

So, after initially recognising the truth that Lily Allens position on file-sharing her pro-Mandelson notion that ‘persistent file-sharers’ should have their internet connections cut off/crippled – was nonsense, they’ve now turned round and said, “ah no, see when Lily was talking like a complete loony? yeah, we’re all about that now. Rock on, with your Machiavellian internet snooping!” Here’s a link to their statement on it.

So the group that were supposedly there to represent ‘artists’ in all this are trying to take away the best free option for artists to be discovered. To place it back in the hands of those who would charge a fortune for the service of trying to get your music out to an audience, in the hope that they’ll pay for it in the end. Those services – none of which are performance related (you don’t get a refund on a magazine ad if everyone ignores it) are the good guys, and your fans getting excited about what you do and getting their friends to listen to it is a bad idea.

I’m a big fan of some of the artists who signed the list and pretty good friends with some others – but I don’t think they could be more wrong, misguided, dim, ill-conceived, stupid, moronic, self-defeating. For example:

  • How is this monitored?
  • Have they thought about just how easy it is to hide your IP?

Have they thought about:

  • the cost of monitoring this stuff,
  • cross referencing it against lists of stuff that is actually legal to be added to file sharing sites,
  • checking the terms of any licensing agreements to make sure the tracks in question aren’t legal,
  • repairing broken metadata (will they be able to find a Billy Bragg album that I make available on bit torrent if I call it a “steve lawson demo collection”, but send an email to my mates telling them what it really is so they can grab it?)

It’s unenforceable, ludicrous, and just sets up more lines for the people who design  this software – who are WAYYYY cleverer than you – to cross. This shit is easy to get round, all you do is set yourself up as someone who’s more concerned about regulation than you are about connecting with your audience. The only people that will benefit from this are the people who run the agencies set up to monitor traffic, and the much cleverer people who will be finding ways round it.

I’ve said it before but indie artists are massively under-represented on torrenting sites. Why is that? Because people are in touch with us, and are less likely to anonymously share the music of their friends. Make friends with your audience, and this stuff evens itself out. Bit Torrent isn’t the first place people look for my music because it’s available in easier places. But if they do go there, I hope they find some and listen to me. I’d rather they listened than didn’t. And given how expensive a radio plugger would be to get my stuff out there, I’m happy to trade some ‘free publicity’ for the ‘risk’ that those people might not pay for it later.

Instead of looking at the massive opportunity that file sharing offers musicians to be discovered at ZERO cost, the FAC have backed the old school idea that has been failing artists for the last 50 years. There was no golden age, there was no time when ‘the recording industry’ was good for musicians. It has never existed, but it could now. But the FAC are too damn stupid/greedy/backwards to see it.

Dear FAC. I’m so glad I didn’t look to join you when you formed. I’d have to quit now, and tell you what a sham I think your organisation is. You muppets.

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57 Comments so far ↓

  • Terence Eden

    They say “a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer’s bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional.”

    Let’s assume that’s down to 56K – old modem speeds. That’ll get you basic browsing and email.

    And FTP downloads. And HTTP downloads. And Email downloads.

    I can remember downloading Buffy episodes back in the day via a 56K modem. I had to leave the computer running all night but the 350 MB files came through just fine.

    And, yes, since then I’ve bought all the seasons of Buffy – first on VHS, then on DVD.

  • Dean Whitbread

    Agree with you, of course. But what I don’t get is why people are surprised. We all know that the mainstream tends to circle its wagons laager-style, and now that Lily is in there, of course she will look after her own. Yes, there is a massive dose of hypocrisy but that (sadly) is to be expected.

    It draws a line, not between “legality” and “illegality” but between the haves and the have-nots. In the short to medium term, the outcome of this could well be that the underground will benefit from the pointless and misdirected actions of FAC and be re-energized which can only be a good thing.

    PS: typo in para #1: “persisten”

  • Cath

    Perhaps I’m being very simple here. But why can’t we just go after the file sharing sites? If musicians want to give away some or all of their music to fans then fine, it’s their choice. If a fan sends an mp3 to a friend to have a listen to, fine, tapes never closed the industry down. I don’t think you can police the individual who downloads everything for free, but surely we can police the file sharing sites.

  • Vijay Singh Riyait

    How do you protect the copyright material that artists/musicians produce? I agree with you that individual internet restrictions are not the answer. However, I know lots of people who download copyrighted music/films from various sites without any payment. They also do not see anything wrong with that. There are also lots of people who legitimately pay for download content (with/without DRM) so I guess there is a huge opportunity to use the internet for indie artists to get recognition.

    Maybe all music should be licensed under a GPL like license, free distribution but can’t be modified/incorporated outside of these terms and people pay for somethng else??!!

  • Mike Arthur

    @Cath: You can’t go after the sites because P2P filesharing software isn’t run by “sites”, it is run by invidiuals. You can’t shut down every individual, particularly when people start using closed groups and encryption.

    @Steve: Er, hide your IP address? What do you mean by that? It’s really not that easy to do at all. You could maybe proxy your connections through another machine that you control but in the end this stuff is all pretty traceable unless you use Tor or a small group of people.

    I do agree that this legislation is stupid and the artists are also pretty ignorant for supporting it. Great post Steve :)

  • Tom Alves

    Ok, here’s my 2p. This is really a response to few of Steve’s blogs all rolled into one.

    Until 50 years ago musicians got paid to write & perform music which was pretty transitory, concerts, sheet music etc. There were issues of copyright (e.g. Mozart having to quickly write arrangements of his opera before others stole his thunder) but they were few. Musicians got paid a living wage, a very few became moderately wealthy. Then along came a means of recording performances & suddenly the way the public came into contact with music changed radically but so did the way musicians could get remuneration. The public were able to choose what they listened to when they wanted to & were willing to pay handsomely for the privilege. Now you could listen to an artist you would never get to see live and artists who could never perform live were able to record music to an audience. A whole industry was created to cater for this and in turn made a lot of money for recording studios, printers, record companies & a host of related activities needed to meet the demands of the public & the musicians.

    So here you have a market where some have grown very rich & have raised the expectations in those who follow. You have a consumer who has become complacent about how they listen to music and the whole relationship to the music is distorted. Finally the recorded music meets a technology which makes it incredibly easy for the consumer to copy & distribute without any need for the middlemen or indeed the original artist. Naturally this means that those inflated expectations are threatened & many are likely to lose potentially huge sums.

    And this I think is a large part of where Lily Allen & Steve find themselves. Should the artist fight for their right to be paid or should they bow to the inevitable and except a loss in income but use the new freedom as an opportunity to become better known. I guess those who are already making money form the old system will argue the former & those who aren’t making much from record sales will plump for the latter. The problem for the Lily Allens of this world is that the technology won’t go away and you can’t use it to get well known & then shut it off when the revenue pours in. On the otherhand the Steve’s of this world might be described as defeatist in accepting that they won’t get paid by the majority of people listening to their music and by adopting that attitude are helping to deprive other musicians of their hard earned dues.

    I started this thought off when I read the following in the blog above

    “I’m happy to trade some ‘free publicity’ for the ‘risk’ that those people might not pay for it later”

    So I DMed Steve to ask if he minded if I upload his entire catalogue to the web and so deprive him of a few record sales. Once they are out there where is the incentive to actually pay?

    (For the record I actually own every CD Steve has released so he’s had enough money off me although not enough to live on for long)

    As a second thought I actually can see some good following Steve’s open net policy. Eventually musicians will return to days of yore and earn the bulk of their income from live performance & that will mean only the talented get paid leaving a far higher standard for the audience to enjoy.

    Hope some of that is coherent

  • MikeKSmith

    Why upload Steve’s entire back-catalogue to BitTorrent when you can stream pretty much all of it from sites like Last.FM, Spotify etc.?

    I’m pretty sure that the Twitter-sphere would have rounded severely on anybody that uploaded a BitTorrent of Imogen Heap’s “Ellipse” album in the week before its release and yet the whole thing was streamable from SoundCloud. Imogen’s engagement with her fanbase (in much the way that Steve is advocating) might have played a part in this – we felt much more “bought in” to what she was producing and were well aware of what had gone into producing this music…

  • Mike Arthur

    I don’t really have a vested interest in helping either side. I don’t want to see people serving stupid sentences and facing huge fines for what’s a pretty timid crime but I also don’t want to encourage piracy as I don’t download stuff myself and it negatively effects my industry too.

    Basically, I don’t believe in a fascist state that is pushed by industry to intervene in people’s communications. However, I’m not going to justify people that break the law, I don’t believe these people are protesting, they just want something for nothing.

  • Marius

    I think the exchange between Tom and Steve in the previous two posts demonstrates something powerful.

    We should rename the FAC the Fettered Artist Circus. 😉

    Seriously, the main lesson of this spectacle playing off with Lily, FAC and the Piratez of the Interwebz is this…

    Tie yourself as an artist to massive corporate conglomerates and you will be forced to fight their battles of defending a dead way of doing business, and look ugly, desperate and even greedy to onlookers. Or…

    Focus on making good music and connecting to your supporters and follow your own principles as a guide in life.

    Which path leaves the most power in the hands of the artist? Which is better for the music?

    I think the way forward for artists is quite obvious in this regard.

    Crybaby musicians should grow up and face the music in every sense of the word.

    There’s nothing to cry about. Just get back to the Art and forget the spectacles of fame and fortune and you’ll see the World has never been better for the true Artist.

    Thanks for the great post Steve.

    Marius

  • Chris Bestwick

    Hi Steve

    If a musician explicitly states that they don’t want their music shared via a p2p network, is a person who is aware of the musician’s views but shares it nonetheless doing something morally wrong?

    Perhaps I haven’t read you closely enough but I’m unsure what you think about this central point, and I think it’s possible to answer yes to this, while still believing that file-sharing presents a great opportunity to many musicians and that the technological problems of stopping it are insurmountable.

    Cheers,

    Chris

  • Brennig

    Interesting article here [http://petertinson.wordpress.com/] even though the author is following the governmental line and not pushing back against it.

    The out-turn of the thinking is that universities are de facto ‘ISPs’ and would have to take action against students who take part in ‘illegal file-sharing’.

  • Gordon Rae

    Isn’t it about time we started the Neglected Artists Coalition?

  • steve

    Re Mike’s comment (sorry, threading runs out after 5 replies :) ) – great question, the point of ‘first contact’ with bit torrent is an interesting one. As I said, indies are massively under-represented, so is Bit Torrent arrival a measurement of mainstream success? :) Is Bit Torrent actually being used as a distribution method for ‘chart’ material, and if it is, aren’t we worrying about what happens to artists whose careers are already well in the black, or should be if the industry wasn’t ripping them off. Which brings us back to where the problem actually is – is the ‘new way’ the problem, or the solution to a problem that artists have been hoodwinked by all along…

    So are we expecting the people who do make stuff available on bit torrent to act with a level of ethical awareness that just isn’t present in the music buying/listening/marketing/selling ecosystem? If the industry is corrupt, is asking people to make a moral decision not to share your music a right you gave up when you bought into the mechanism that made Bit Torrent a viable option.

    After all, it’s been said a load of times that when napster first came along, it presented an awesome opportunity for the music industry to rethink its whole distribution/funding model, and instead, it rallied behind Lars and his bone-headed nonsense, just as it is now doing with Lily… At what point does someone who allows a corrupt industry to use their music as poker chips lose the right to expect their audience to value their music higher than they themselves do?

    So it’s not the ‘morality’ of the question that’s at stake, but the reality of the expectation.

  • steve

    another great question from Mike:

    Or (to be unnecessarily harsh on your argument) is it ok to share the music of people who don’t talk explicitly to their listeners on the internet?

    maybe the question is, is it really stupid for artists to not talk to their audiences, and then expect their audiences to do things that they’re only likely to do if you talk to them?

  • Gordon Rae

    I believe a lot of people are very comfortable with paying artists for their work, but are skeptical about the big labels and their business models. Seven years ago, Tim O’Reilly said freeloading was like progressive taxation http://is.gd/40gvf Big artists lose some revenue, small artists gain an audience.

    The industry needs business model innovation. Brian Eno and David Byrne did very good job with their last album. They earned the equivalent of a record company advance in a month, despite the whole album being available for free, to anyyone who wanted it free. http://is.gd/40g2c

  • Tom Alves

    The basic problem is that there is one structure that can be used in a myriad ways yet benefits & disadvantages different users in different ways .

    The waters are further muddied by the apparent abuse the artists & the customers have suffered at the hands of the record companies which creates an atmosphere of false justification that helps the consumer to ignore the obligation to pay. For example I’ve bought an album on vinyl & cd yet am expected to pay full price for the new remastered HDCD version. The temptation is to say I’ve paid twice already I’ll download for free ‘cos you owe me.

  • Mike Arthur

    @Steve: Fair points above about Borders, the music industry does need to change and it’s spectacularly failing to do so. The tragedy is that the artists fail to see this and are just blaming downloaders exclusively for the decline of the industry.

  • steve

    Worth throwing in on this discussion is this article from The Guardian today – apparently Warner Bros have been acting as though they own the rights to ‘A Girl Like You’ by Edwyn Collins for years. They don’t. So not only are they file sharing, but illegally selling the track!

  • Kevin Charles Dunford

    Steve,

    For me, the real problems begin when you can’t even give your music away.

    Good luck with Darbuka tonight, now get practising.

    Kevin

  • Barny

    Hi folks,

    The way I see it is that it is a matter of trust, if lilly and coldplay et al don’t want me to download their stuff and have publicly said so, then I won’t.

    However, if I am honest I wasn’t likely to anyway and I am less likely to be bothered purchasing it.

    All well and good, for me at least.

    The problem for the artist who wants to allow the download and distribution remains getting people to talk about their music, it is hard work starting out (not that I had deluded myself it would be otherwise) people are apathetic towards Music that the mass media (that are mostly controlled by Lilly’s precious industry) aren’t telling them is ok for their consumption.